Bring a New Water-Efficient Landscape to Life with California Native Plants

California Native Plants
California native plants can add color to a water-efficient landscape, while attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. Image courtesy of San Diego County Water Authority

Thirteenth in a series republished with permission from the San Diego County Water Authority website.

With your new water-efficient landscaping plans complete, demolition and sod removal complete, and your new irrigation system in place, it’s time to begin plant installation.

For most homeowners, this is the most rewarding part of the process: seeing your new landscaping come to life.

Colorful, drought-tolerant California plants can replace a thirsty, labor-intensive lawn.

Here are six tips to help you through the installation and plant placement process:

Step 1: Use a garden hose to outline ground cover areas to help visualize the design before beginning installation.

2nd step: Place the plants while they are still in their containers, in their approximate location according to your planting design plan. Take a step back and revise. View your plant locations from different angles. Make design adjustments now to avoid having to dig up and move plants.

Be aware that many drought-tolerant landscapes look sparse in the first few years. As your plants reach their adult size, they will fill out over time. Be sure to leave proper spacing to allow each plant to grow to full size.

Step 3: Dig plant holes twice as wide as the plant’s root ball and just deep enough to bury the roots. Water the hole before placing the plant. When planted, the top of the root ball should be level with or slightly above ground level.

Step 4: Once in the hole, the plant should be packed firmly in place with the compost-amended original soil from the hole. The extra dirt can create a berm around the plant to hold water.

Step 5: Cover the planting area with a layer of mulch two to three inches deep. Keep mulch a few inches around plant stems to prevent rot. Using mulch has many benefits. It can help suppress weeds, enrich soils, protect plant roots from compaction, give your garden a finished look, and mulch conserves water.

Step 6: Monitor your garden to make sure your plants are getting enough water. Even native plant species and drought-tolerant plants need water to establish themselves. It may take a year.

To minimize your watering needs while your plants get established, set up your landscape in the fall, before San Diego’s heaviest rainfall months, usually December through March.

The San Diego County Water Authority offers programs, resources and incentives to improve water use efficiency for residential, commercial and agricultural users. For more resources on water use efficiency, go to


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